1.5 How can the national and regional level support Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning?


By Ash Oyofo / Updated: 28 Nov 2019

Urban mobilityinfo-icon is closely connected with other policies such as those on the environmentinfo-icon, road safety, health, spatial planning and energy. Such policies are often elaborated at the local, regional and national levels. Many European cities, therefore, need enabling support from higher levels of government, particularly in the areas of governanceinfo-icon, legislation, funding, monitoringinfo-icon and evaluationinfo-icon, guidance and methodology, education and knowledge exchange. In most EU Member States, the national government provides such support, while in some countries regions have more competencies and the national level plays a more limited role.

Benefits for the national and regional level

While urban mobility planning is mostly a local competence, cities cannot achieve the ambitious goals of sustainable urban mobility alone. At the same time, national and regional levels of government also have much to gain from effective Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning, as the local level improvements also contribute to the achievement of regional and national goals. Below are several incentives for national and regional actors to support SUMP development.

Improved coherence between different sectoral policies and governance levels:

Urban mobility is closely bound by sectoral policies at other governance levels, but such policies are often developed by a wide range of political and institutional actors both at the local as well as the regional, national or even the European level. Unless coordinated, such policies are compiled in diverse planning documents, reflecting differences in governance and legal frameworks, elaboration processes and specific objectives. The inherent risk of inconsistency and redundancy among planning approaches and outcomes needs to be addressed. The most prominent examples relate to land-use regulation and land taxation, the ability of disadvantaged people to access basic services, and infrastructure development.

Removal of barriers to SUMP elaboration and implementation:

Some obstacles are purely local in nature and must be overcome by local authorities, whereas others often result from ineffective national frameworks that lead to the following barriers [ref:43]:

  • Lack of cooperation between city, regional and national levels;

  • Limited coordination at the national level across ministries, leading to inconsistency between the policies of national government departments;

  • Low level of awareness, political will and commitment from decision-makers;

  • Lack of sustained and coordinated funding at the national, regional and local levels;

  • Poor culture of monitoring and evaluation with limited or no quality control; and

  • Insufficient professional support (including guidelines), training, and professionals who are able to convey the required competencies.

Optimisation and coordination of European, national and local funding flows:

Financial leverage is an essential component in translating political visions into concrete operations. Various European and national institutions provide funding for urban mobility. The creation of a coordinated national or regional funding framework, based on a shared understanding of legal and technical aspects, could support sustainable urban mobility. Most importantly, any framework for funding infrastructure schemes would need to promote transport avoidance and support sustainable modes.

Promotion of innovation and new markets:

The creation of a national or regional strategyinfo-icon for mobility can encompass the establishment of clearly-defined priorities for mobility solutions, including innovative technologies. For instance, the Clean Vehicles Directive [ref:44] requires public bodies to procure a certain minimum share of clean vehicles, thereby facilitating the roll-out of low- and zero-emission vehicles. These clearly-stated priorities provide the private sector and local authorities with a clear and stable signal that may facilitate long-term investments.


Developing a national or regional framework: a win-win situation!

Cities have the potential to be major catalysts of change in the implementation of recent international agreements such as the Paris Agreement and the New Urban Agenda. Indeed, the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Paris in 2015 (COP 21) recognised the critical role cities have to play in effective climate action. For example, a crucial strategy to push people away from private car use is taxation: national government departments can put in place purchase and circulation taxes, while local action can facilitate car-independent lifestyles.

However, cities’ resources and competences are too limited for them to achieve the shift towards sustainable mobility alone. National or regional support for SUMP can trigger a decrease in transport-related greenhouse gas emissions by creating a political, financial and technical framework that increases awareness among stakeholders - from the local to the national level and within the public and private sectors. In this way, a national or regional policyinfo-icon that supports SUMPs represents a direct contribution to nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

This also holds true for European air quality requirements. European legislation sets emission limits and air quality standards for the protection of human health. In 2016, six Member States exceeded the limits of at least one of their emission ceilings. Overall, only four EU countries complied with all air quality standards, while ten states exceeded the limits of all air quality standards. Urban mobility is one essential field of action in order to reduce emissions and improve air quality. A national or regional SUMP-supportive framework would allow local plans to be more focused and operational, contributing to cities’ ability to comply with air quality requirements.

In a nutshell, national and regional governments will not achieve their climate-related goals, meet European air quality requirements or keep their international commitments without the contribution of cities. And cities need regional and national governments to support them in achieving more sustainable mobility. A win-win situation!

Measures and instruments to foster the uptake of SUMPs

National actors can support the development of SUMPs with a wide range of actions at that level. Figure 6 shows the core national measures relating to governance, legislation and regulations, funding, monitoring and evaluation, guidelines and methodology, education and knowledge exchange.

There is a high level of interaction among the actions. For example, developing a national grant to support quality SUMP elaboration [Funding] implies defining what a SUMP is and possibly how to elaborate one [Legislation and regulations, Guidelines and methodology].

The funding process must be coordinated with other national stakeholders [Governance] and monitored throughout its duration [Monitoring and evaluation]. Its benefits must be communicated at key moments (e.g. launch of the grant) and feedback should be gathered from stakeholders throughout the process [Governance, Information, knowledge exchange]. Thus, national decision-makers are strongly encouraged to develop a comprehensive national programme. This improves coherence, creates synergies and increases visibility for all stakeholders, especially local authorities that are elaborating SUMPs.

Figure 6: National level measures to foster the uptake of SUMP and their main relations


Governments can foster the take-up of the SUMP concept through four levels of intervention, all of which build upon one another:

  1. Information: The national government provides detailed information about the SUMP concept (and its benefits) in the national context. A national platform can facilitate exchange among cities on the SUMP concept, provide good practice examples, and inform about (national) funding opportunities.
  2. Incentives: Having a SUMP is a prerequisite for cities to receive national funding for urban mobility projects. This approach is followed in some Operational Programmes of the European Structural and Investment Funds.
  3. Enabling cities and regions: The national government grants cities the legal power to introduce levies and charging systems or it introduces experimentation clauses in relevant legislation to allow cities to test new approaches to sustainable mobility.
  4. Regulation: A SUMP is mandatory by law for all cities or for some cities based on given criteria, e.g. population or the category of a local authorityinfo-icon.

Figure 7: Four levels of intervention


National SUMP Supporting Programmes are programmes run at the national or regional government level to encourage, support, require and/or provide incentives for the implementation of SUMPs. Detailed guidance can be found in the Topic Guide on National support frameworks for Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning.



As highlighted by a recent analysis of national frameworks for Sustainable Urban Mobility Planning in Europe, there is a real need for effective and coherent national and/or regional SUMP programmes to support local SUMP development and implementation. More detailed needs have been identified for different country profiles [ref:45].

Figure 8: Needs of effective and coherent national or regional SUMP programmes for local SUMP development and implementation